The path to financial independence (FI) need not always entail hard work, self-denial and recycled hessian under-garments. What if it were possible to re-programme our brains and turn into FI ninjas…all whilst watching a DVD at home with a nice cup of tea?
It turns out that some mainstream films yield hidden but valuable lessons for potential escape artists. All of the films below are infused with life-affirming values and inspiring examples. Keep an open mind and let the subliminal messages absorb themselves into your subconscious.
The Escape Artist has always wanted to write grandiose, quasi-intellectual reviews replete with pyscho-babble and this provides the perfect opportunity. So, without further ado, here are my all time top 10 Escape Artist Training Films…
1: The Great Escape
Obviously. The classic Second World War escape drama and Christmas perennial. Based on a true story, it tells of the mass escape attempt by British and Allied soldiers from Stalag Luft III. An incredible sense of mission, resourcefulness and trial and error experimentation permeates the film. The escapees thrive on the challenge and work together tirelessly towards their common goals. Personally, I can’t help being struck by the stark contrast in productivity with the average office. The quality of the planning, problem solving and teamwork are notable, perhaps aided by the lack of all the clutter of modern day office life such as powerpoint slides, pointless conference calls and steering committee meetings.
2. Cast Away
If you watch this film carefully, you’ll realise it’s a masterpiece of self-help art. The film shows Chuck Nolan (Tom Hanks) catching a tough break when his plane crashes, leaving him stranded on a desert island. In response, Hanks masterfully plays the hand that he’s been dealt, showing resilience and maximising optionality in a world laden with randomness. No resource is wasted, no opportunity squandered. Hanks learns to lives in harmony with the environment and demonstrates the cost savings and body improvements available from a paleo diet. The dentistry in-sourcing scene is, however, not to be replicated at home.
Hanks doesn’t give up and eventually escapes. The return to the USA reveals just how easy we have it. It’s the little things – Hanks ex-fiancee apologises that she doesn’t have semi-skimmed milk to put in his coffee – only full fat. Having lived off raw crab and rainwater for 4 years, Hanks takes this devastating news remarkably calmly. The period of deprivation has strengthened him – physically and mentally – and he is now truly free. In contrast, his former fiancee has imprisoned herself in middle class America, married to a “safe choice” man she doesn’t really love and with a whopping mortgage.
3. 8 Mile
Here, the escape is from the trailer parks and ghettoes of Detroit as Eminem shows white trash how it should be done. This is another majestic self-help film, masquerading as entertainment. Eminem puts in the hard work needed (both at his factory day job and on achieving mastery of his rap rhymes) to rise above the gang-bangers, skanks and lazy mates that provide a dysfunctional social norm, threatening to pull him down into living paycheck to paycheck (or food stamp to food stamp). For her part, Kim Basinger as Eminem’s mum even manages to make a denim mini-skirt look classy. No “yo mama so fat…” jokes are required here.
4. The Shawshank Redemption
The hero of this prison escape film is former banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins). The film’s opening shows him being given two life sentences for murdering his wife and her lover before we move to the prison where we meet lifer ‘Red’ (Morgan Freeman). Unlike many of his fellow prisoners, Andy is flexible and can adapt to widely varying situations. He is not scared of freedom and the removal of the safety net of institutional life. In contrast, whilst Red has high status inside, he is only adapted for the prison eco-system. Andy shows Red how to cope outside; Andy is the true entrepreneur, Red is the corporate man that needs retraining.
Throughout we see Andy’s quiet example: keep true to yourself, never lose hope, bide your time and look for your chance. “I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really,” he tells Red. “Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin‘.” Along the way, Andy demonstrates a keen understanding of tax regulations, trusts and financial planning before escaping to freedom.
5. Touching the Void
Escape from the Andes. If you are thinking that modern life in the West is hard and exercising or saving money is tricky, this could provide the face slap you so clearly need. In this real life story, our escape artist falls off a mountain ridge, shatters his femur, is cut loose by his climbing companion, falls into an ice crevasse then spends 4 days almost starving to death whilst crawling on ice and rocks for 30 miles with a broken leg. To get some sense of this for yourself, next time you fly from Heathrow Airport, why not first try breaking your leg and then crawling through snow to the airport on your hands and knees from Central London?
6. Family Man
The escape theme is less obvious but it’s there none the less. Nicholas Cage is a Wall Street M&A rainmaker trapped in a gilded cage of the corporate world who is given a glimpse of simple but meaningful living in the New Jersey ‘burbs. He and Tia Leoni artfully demonstrate the limitations of the hedonic treadmill and show the hard choices that need to be made by the middle class to prioritise true happiness above the crass accumulation of materialist trophies. Cage is rational and resourceful and able to map a path to the top in either world. The bigger question however is: just because you can get to the top of the corporate world, does that mean that you should? Discuss.
7. Regarding Henry
Escape from the legal profession. Harrison Ford plays a high flying litigation lawyer who gets brain damaged. Naturally, this results in a significant personal and moral improvement. The film shows the ostracism of Henry by a vacuous upper-middle class polite society as he turns his back on being a money focussed asshole. Bradley, Henry’s occupational therapist, is the secret star of the film. Bradley acts as Henry’s guardian angel and mentor, having himself previously changed life and career and reached a higher plane of self-actualisation. Bradley works his vocation, lives stress-free and scores like Michael Jordan with the female nurses.
Wall-E is a robot left behind to clear up an apocalyptically polluted planet earth. Despite this almost impossibly large task, he stays completely focussed on his mission and what he can control. Wall-E is totally efficient and completely frugal – nothing is wasted, every resource is retained for future use. Wall-E doesn’t pay lip service to the environment. He takes action to improve it and does not require the approval of a decadent consumer society that has fucked off to another galaxy, leaving him to clear up the mess.
The film is memorable for the vision of fat, helpless humans spoilt by convenience and deprived of challenge. They’ve given up real living and taken to staring isolated at computer tablets, drinking bucket size sodas and unable to move other than in their mobility scooters….good job we’d never let that happen to us, right? Don’t be fooled by the animation format, this is a sophisticated film and a warning of the temptations of rampant consumerism and convenience.
Another story of a real life escape from the Andes, this time triggered by a plane crash. The film shows just what people can do when push comes to shove. The next time your children say they don’t like [insert any healthy food here], get them to watch this film.
Little Johnny may sulk if you put lettuce on his plate but it’s interesting to consider what we would eat if we were really hungry. History (and this film) suggests we are rather more adaptable and anti-fragile than either you or Little Johnny might imagine.
10. The Empire Strikes Back
The second of the original Star Wars trilogy, the Empire Strikes back is often regarded as “filler” between the classic original Star Wars and the climatic Return of the Jedi. However, underneath the sci-fi veneer, this is another “stealth” self-help classic.
Having escaped the boredom of small planet life on Tattoine, Luke Skywalker finds his mentor (Yoda) living frugally in a swamp. Skywalker then undergoes an apprenticeship of simple living and combat training. In order to graduate as a Jedi Knight, Skywalker must face down and conquer his own fears and confront a tricky relationship with his Father. Luke learns control over the emotions of fear, greed and ego. Forget the showy victories of the other Star Wars films, it’s in The Empire Strikes Back where the ground work is laid for ultimate victory.
Did I miss any?